where do all the pencils go?


A little-known fact about Rob and I: we are aspiring singer-songwriters. Scratch the aspiring – we ARE singer-songwriters. We can make almost any household situation into a song. And the more frustrating the scenario, the more inspired the tune.

Most compositions are created spontaneously yet flow from deep within. Our talents know no boundaries, as far as genre: we can do Broadway, Opera, Folk, Country Western. For example, one of our greatest hits is a Hymn about pencils, the lyrics of which I am about to share. They are meant to be sung with utmost seriousness, lots of lament, and an almost monk-like solemnity. (Don’t forget to be a little off-key):

Where do all the pencils go?
I really really really don’t know.
Some say to and some say fro —
But I, I really don’t know…

We would share the music video of this masterpiece, but we fear that it might be too beautiful for you to bear. I will, however, share the history on The Pencil Song. You might be surprised to discover that it was composed on a day when I… could not find a pencil. In other words, a typical day in the life of Jocelyn. I own several, maybe hundreds, maybe tens of thousands of these yellow barrel Paper Mate Sharpwriter pencils. And yet. I can never find one.

You are correct to surmise that I prefer to write with pencils because I have a fear of commitment. (I like this particular type because they are always sharp and I guess I enjoy that quick little flick of the wrist you have to perform with your other hand in order to twist more lead from the tip.) Mostly, it makes me feel better to know that whatever I write can be immediately erased, if need be. I only reach for pens in order to sign checks or to write out birthday cards (which are usually messy botch-jobs.) Otherwise, I always use a pencil. That is, when I can FIND one.

I probably take them out into the world and I lose them. They get wedged between the couch cushions. They fall under my seat in the car. Sometimes I find about ten of them huddling together mischievously in the bottom of my shoulder bag. The rest? Who knows? But always, when I want to use one, there is a lengthy search. Of course accompanied by The Song.

So you can imagine my delight when I discovered that there was something called a “pencil cactus.”

pencil cactus close up

I first saw one in the window of Belkind Bigi, a dreamy antique store in nearby Tarrytown, NY that offers mid-century modern furniture. If you are into this kind of design, I invite you to fawn over their website:

Belkind Bigi

This store is where, many moons ago, I saw my first arc lamp. And where, more recently, I purchased the ottoman now sitting in our library/book nook.

mid-century ottoman

Then on a trip to San Francisco, I spotted another pencil cactus in the same type of mid-century modern furniture store. So when I spied one in our local Home Depot, sitting there all unassuming amid all the other more traditional plants, I nabbed it.

pencil cactus

It’s much smaller than the one in Belkind Bigi and also the one we saw out in SF, but we love it nonetheless. A few months ago, this beloved cactus took a turn for the worse: some of its pencils shriveled up and turned brown, giving us yet another reason to sing The Pencil Song. Thankfully, good ol’ Rob of the Green Thumb was able to nurse it back to health by giving it a trim. He also changed its location in order to give it more sun. (After all, it is a cactus.)

pencil cactus rehab

It looks a little crowded on our “surfer table,” all squeezed up against the Aloe, but the light streaming into the big picture window makes this a good plant rehab center. (Notice that the polka dotted begonia, nearby to the left, has gone through some not-so-positive changes since I posted about her last.)

At least the cactus is now thriving and he’s even sprouted some new pencils. Too bad I can’t write with them…


Do you have any tips for keeping tabs on your pencils or any tips on keeping a pencil cactus happy and healthy? Any idea why pencil cacti are so often paired with mid-centsch design?

27 replies

  1. It is so comforting to know that there are other pencil practitioners in the world of home renovation. I too love the erasability of past pencil transgressions…reassuring, don’t you think?

  2. Stash pencils in your hair behind your ear! Or my favorite…in my bra! Great conversation starter when a few start collecting in my décolleté. And stop using pencils. Songwriters of your caliber don’t ever need to erase. Everything looks better in ink. Your words and sketches are worthy of more. My picks: Pilot’s Precise V5 or Pentel’s Sign Pen.

    • Thank you for these excellent suggestions. But I must say that using the brassier as a pencil case does concern me somewhat, with my tendency to run into walls and tip into tables. That could get painful. 🙂

  3. The answer to the question “Where do all the pencils go? is unbelievably obvious. I have long experience with a kite-eating tree, so I know whereof I speak. The aforementioned pencil cactus has been eating your pencils.

  4. oh my! i LOVE that surfer table to death!
    my hubs and i have a pencil cactus, too, but we keep it outside. it started from a little clipping and it’s now about 6 feet tall. i find my cacti last longer if i “forget” about them more than remember them. ha!

    • Cool! Yes, that’s how big those other ones I referenced were. I assume you live in a relatively warm climate?

      It does seem like “less is more” where some plants like these are concerned.

      That table has a pretty good story behind it, having nothing to do with surfing… 🙂

      • yes, so cal warm! 🙂
        and now i wanna hear about this table!!!!! another post, perhaps?!

  5. Oh how true this is!! I buy packs of pencils and cant find a single one. Don’t get me started on the bottom of my handbag… that’s usually where they all end up along with everything else that’s missing around my house. Those are great pencils… we use those at work!!

    Your pencil plant is so pretty. Like Scrap and Salvage I had a baby like yours that is now so tall (7-8 feet) I’m afraid it’s going to start to fall over. Here’s a picture of her.. or him… but I think it’s a her. http://agoodehouse.files.wordpress.com/2012/08/pencilplant.jpg
    My advice is definitely just to forget about it. Make sure it has filtered bright light. Go search for your missing pencils… by the time you find all of them it’ll be ready for a drink. I probably water mine every 10 days to 2 weeks. If it gets bad spots or frost bite or whatever just cut them off and the plant will be so happy and show off by growing even more. I just love them.
    I think they’re probably a mid-century favorite because they’re very sculptural… like most modern design, succulent plants and cacti are simple, not fussy, and look good no matter where you put them. (I think) 🙂

    Okay, I got a little overly excited about your pencils and your plant. You know how I love them (both). Usually pencils are behind my husband’s ear… and that’s the first place I look. Fun Post!!

    • Wow! That beauty looks more like a tree than a plant – she looks to have a sturdy trunk, so hopefully she will maintain good balance. Yes, since Rob did his trimming we’re noticing lots of cute new little growths. Will be fun to see how big this one gets…though I suspect the southwest climate is slightly more hospitable to these. And yes, very sculptural – I think there’s a little bit of a seaweed-y quality to them, too.

      Imagine the search expedition I had to go on to gather five pencils together for the first photo! Three of them were in the bottom of my bag, but I’m not going to beat myself up for this: I’d rather carry around too many than not have one when I’m out in the world….ie at at coffee shop with a brilliant idea for the next blog! There is nothing worse: if you ask someone to borrow a writing implement, it is of course a pen…

  6. Love writing with pencils! I’ve gotten quite fussy now though…I only buy black Ticonderoga pencils and I sharpen them with an M&R German sharpener. Almost every time I go to Target I pick up a box so I don’t run out! As for storage, I keep them on my desk in a pretty little vase…though one of my daughters has been known to nab them because they are always sharp. Love the pencil cactus! Glad it’s on the mend!

    • Wow, you know your pencils! We have an old-school pencil sharpener hanging in our basement. But I am loathe to go down there for fear of getting attacked by a spider or a gang of spiders. Hence: mechanical 🙂

      I have a cool ceramic thing for my pencils on my desk too, but…there’s never any pencils in it! They can not be contained!! 🙂 Thanks for stopping by VK and I’ll pass your well wishes onto the pencil cactus.

  7. My everyday car is also the project-mobile… and every time my husband takes the van, I SWEAR he empties it of any kind of writing implement. To the point that it is seriously aggravating.

    I might take the above advice to chain one to the dashboard. Or start fining him…

    • I think both of those solutions sound viable: we all must protect our right to…write! (Sorry..)

      Three cheers for project-mobile! My car has so many office supplies in it in case I need them on the fly (envelopes in the door pockets, paperclips and rubberbands in the armrest compartment) that I sometimes call it my carfice. 🙂 When I have one of those days where I eat breakfast, lunch AND dinner in there I am forced to call it the carfeteria. 🙂

  8. Those cacti are so crazy looking! And I was probably also crazy looking the day I was at Home Depot and stuck a “pencil” that had fallen off its cacti into my pocket to try to grow my own. Unsuccessful, guess I better stick with buying them the honest way. 🙂

    It’s a good question, why they’re always associated with mid-century stuff. I’ve been thinking about doing a blog post of different plants associated with decor from different decades.. Kinda interesting, right?

    • OH I would LOVE to see the surveillance camera footage of you taking that “pencil” and putting it in your pocket. I imagine an alarm going off: “WE HAVE A GREEN THUMB IN AISLE 4, A GREEN THUMB IN AISLE 4” ha!! Too bad it didn’t “take” 🙂

      YES! Do a post on plants of the ages! Do you remember that big Monstera plant in all the footage of the Eames House? (At least I think it was a monstera, or something in that family…) 🙂 Great idea.

  9. Love your line about fear of commitment. Too funny. And totally want to find one of those plants. I propose you make your own pencil-pencil cactus sculpture so that they are on display and at hand. Joined together with kneadable erasers. Practical yes, attractive? Hmm, not sure…

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